Getting the message

Science is part of the reality of living in the world today. Most of us simply benefit from that fact, or at least blithely accept it, but very few understand much about the details.

Do we need to? Perhaps the way that sensors placed within a bridge gather and then transmit data to a remote server, which applies algorithms to determine if structural integrity may soon be compromised, is not a process we all need to understand, at least not at the level of differential equations.

But maybe we need to understand it a little more than we do. Discussions of national infrastructure, or energy supplies, or BPAs, become quickly politicized and polarized, and amidst the noise very little public understanding of science, and the potentially positive application of technology, is generated.

Science communicators have long encountered this barrier, and their challenges grow daily. Andrew C. Revkin, a senior fellow at Pace University’s Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies and author of the Dot Earth blog in The New York Times, explored the challenge of communicating science in a recent guest editorial in the Ecological Society of America’s Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Revkin’s points do not apply just to journalists and professional communicators, many of the latter at universities and research centers. More writers of environmental literature are also beginning to understand the risk of becoming irrelevant to a distracted public audience. They know that it’s time to build bridges between imagery and scientific imagination, between metaphor and the application of hard data.

In the 21st century, environmental literature uninformed by science risks becoming simply uninformed. The stakes—our quality of life, and the condition of this planet in coming generations—are too high for writers to let that happen.

About Eric Dieterle

A writer of environmental literature and a public affairs coordinator at Northern Arizona University.
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